Charro!

Country: United States
Director: Charles Marquis Warren
Starring: Elvis Presley, Victor French, Ina Balin, Barbara Werle, Lynn Kellog, Solomon Sturges, Paul Brinegar, James Almanzar
Music: Hugo Montenegro
Title song: ‘Charro’ performed by Elvis Presley

If I had to pick a favourite Elvis Presley movie, it would be King Creole, but Charro! would be tied for second with Flaming Star, but Charro! is not without its flaws – in fact it is very flawed, but still rather enjoyable.

This is just my theory about how the film came about.  I believe the conversation between Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis must have gone something like this:

Elvis: Gee man, I am sick off doing those silly musicals. I want to be an actor. I really like those westerns that that young cat, Clint Eastwood is making! Can I do a film like that?

Colonel Tom: Why you’re the ‘King’! You can do anything you want.

Elvis: Then I want to do one of those westerns like that young cat, Clint Eastwood! Let’s go to Italy!

Colonel Tom: Elvis, Elvis, Elvis. You don’t need to go to Italy to make a western like that. We can do it here.’

Elvis: But I want to go to Italy.

Colonel Tom: How many times must I explain I am an illegal immigrant, and cannot get a passport. That’s why you only play shows in the United States. If you want to go overseas, let’s go to Hawaii again.

Elvis: Hawaii! There ain’t no cowboys in Hawaii, man!.

In the end, Colonel Tom convinced Elvis that he could make a Spaghetti Western in America and the result is Charro! (that is Charro – with an exclamation mark). It wasn’t well received by the fans. As he was the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, I guess they expected him to sing. Apart from the title theme, Elvis does not break into song in this film. He plays it mean and tough.

Jess Wade (Elvis Presley) rides into a Mexican town. He had received a letter from an old flame, Tracy (Ina Balin) stating that she wanted to meet him. At the local saloon, Wade asks after her, only to find that it is all an elaborate setup. Tracy didn’t want to meet him, his ex-partner, Vince Hackett (Victor French) did.

Let me tell you a bit of backstory that happened off screen. You see, Jess used to ride with Vince’s band of outlaws, but then he met Tracy and he decided to go straight. Now Vince’s gang is a bit like the KGB. You can’t just walk away, and Vince doesn’t take to kindly to Jess’ departure. But Vince and his gang go about business as usual (which happens to be armed robbery) and they steal a gold plated cannon from the Mexicans. This cannon, which is called The Victory Gun is a priceless relic and of course, the Mexican people want it back and send several posses of Federales after Vince and his gang.

The Federales push Vince and the boys hard, and get so close that they shoot one of the gang members in the neck. Later, this gang member dies. Vince uses this to his advantage It gives him an opportunity to blame the theft onto Jess. Vince lets it be known that the gang member who was shot while being chased was Jess Wade and he is still at large. The law enforcement agencies do the rest and send ‘Wanted’ posters out across the country for Wade. Jess, of course, is oblivious to this.

Now, back to the bar. Vince has Jess captured and rides him out to the gangs secret hideout in a canyon. There he show Jess The Victory Gun and explains the setup. There’s one discrepancy though — Jess doesn’t have a neck wound. Vince’s men roughly hold Jess down while Vince pulls a red hot iron out of the fire. Vince walks over an then holds the iron to Jess’ neck. Once the deed is done, they let him go. He is now a wanted man with a hefty price on his head for a crime he didn’t commit — but he has the scars to suggest otherwise.

Up until this point the film has been good — actually surprisingly good — but where it should take a leaf out of the book of Hang ‘Em High or even the second half of Fistful Of Dollars, this film falls into Rio Bravo mode. Don’t get me wrong, I think Rio Bravo is one of the great American Westerns — But Elvis is not John Wayne, and this story is hasn’t started in that way. It’s about an honest man who has been done wrong, and we expect to see Jess Wade going about righting that wrong. In a way he does, but it is a lazy way, rather than a proactive way.

There are two main flaws with Charro! The first is the casting of Victor French as the chief bad guy, Vince Hackett. French played a lot of western roles, and even a few baddies, but I never got a real sense of menace from him. In fact, I recall his performances in Get Smart, and the TV series Highway To Heaven rather than his western characters. As Hackett, although the character does violent things, like placing the hot iron on Jess’ neck, French’s performance just doesn’t resonate as the villain. Therefore, Elvis’ performance, which is pretty snarly by the King’s standards, seems wasted or misguided. I’d actually say this is one of Elvis’ better ‘adult’ performances — that is where he played a grown-up rather than a teenager (like in King Creole). Here Elvis is a man, and he looks like a man with his bearded chin and dirty clothes, Rather than the clean cut singing and dancing gigolo that he usually played. I guess that’s why this film didn’t do to well. People didn’t want to see a dirty Elvis.

The second flaw with the film is the script. As I mentioned, the film starts off fantastically, recalling Eastwood’s Hang Em High, (the similarity being the wronged man with a scarred neck), but then it settles into a fairly routine Western story, sort of like a cut-rate version of Rio Bravo, rather than the tough revenge flick it could have been. The contrivance of The Liberty Gun could have been taken from one of Sergio Leone’s westerns, but once again it is not used to its full potential — or more accurately, it’s not given the mythical status it could have been.

Charro! is the dirty unloved Elvis film. It’s different. But that’s why I like this film. It isn’t a western classic, but there is something here worth seeing. To some viewers it may just be a curio, but I think it is more than that. I think it is an indicator of what Elvis may have achieved as an actor had his filmic output not been forced into a sausage machine. In the end, the film ended up being one of the final salvos in Elvis’ movie career. He made two more films — not counting concerts films — and then said goodbye to Hollywood.

The trailer – uploaded to Youtube by Changeofhabit

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